My spirit lifts when I behold the sea of rice fields next to Merci Patisserie. While not far west of downtown Utsunomiya, in Tochigi Prefecture, this cake shop embraces and showcases country living.
At Merci, find not only gift goods, café fare, cakes, sweets (cream puffs, custard, gelato!) but shelves of health food goods and farm fresh, local, gourmet quality eggs.
The eggs are central to this patisserie. They have won awards in Tokyo. The chicken farm is nearby. Apparently, the chickens are raised in a clean environment and are not administered antibiotics, antibacterial agents or synthetic coloring.
With the same sentiment, baked goods at Merci are made with next to no additives, and as much as possible local ingredients are used, such as rice flour, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Yes, vegatables! Japanese often combine vegetable flavors into sweets. Merci is no exception, offering typical French sweets along with tantalizing and unusual combinations such as tomato ice-cream, tomato jelly and pudding made with white wine and spinach mouse.
I first visited Merci two years ago, then last year, and finally just yesterday. It gets more and more attractive, the garden especially. Trees have been planted, a garden path made and outdoor seating has changed from a customers’ fantasy to reality. The patisserie sits on a ridge overlooking an expanse of green. And now there is a resident rabbit.
Peter the rabbit hangs out in a comfortable space to the left of the entrance of Merci when the weather is fine. He wasn’t there when we dropped by yesterday so I inquired within. By the time I had downed my grapefruit gelato, Peter was in his enclosure with an industrial type fan blowing cool air on him and a carrot lodged under his bulky frame. Merci staff had set him up outside just for me!
Merci Patisserie is an ideal destination to go to with a good friend for a chat over dessert and coffee. The shop is barrier-free, spacious and bright with sunshine even on a rainy day. Café seating can accommodate 30 but the three weekday afternoons I have visited, only one or two other tables were occupied. A constant stream of customers seem to come in to buy goods. A regular cup of coffee will set you back only Y300 and a scoop of gelato ice-cream can be had for about the same price.